Monday, October 14, 2019

Repentance' results -- revival!

Every revival movement in history has involved repentance.
But it's not only important during times of widespread revival -- we each need to repent in order to experience PERSONAL revival!

Malachi 3:7 tells us "Return to me, and I will return to you."

Is God calling to us right now? Now is the time to respond.
There's an old saying, and I believe a song, too, that says "Lord, send revival, and let it begin with me!"
The Psalmist has something to tell us here:
Will you not revive us again,    that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)
Revival truly begins with us, the believers, God's people -- and the prophet Isaiah gives us an inspiring example:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1,5-8)
Revival truly begins on a personal level: with our sense of our own sin, with our repentance, and with God's mercy in forgiving our sins.  Then, when we are walking with the Lord, He can use us to touch other peoples' lives.

But what are we PERSONALLY repenting of? Let's look at what our Savior says are the problems with the church. What does He point out about the body of believers?
In Revelation, He speaks to several churches; the church at Ephesus came first:
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:4-6)
In these verses, we see that we need to repent if we have an unenthusiastic, loveless relationship with the Lord. Do we keep everything formal? Are we scared to crack a smile or utter an "Amen" or a "Praise the Lord!"  Are we working hard for God, but focused more on the work than on our loving Father?
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)
Are our days focused on works, or on our love for God? If we are not "love-centered" then we need to repent and ask the Spirit to restore the joy of our salvation and our joyful love for Him. (Incidentally, that last verse (6) commends the Christians in Ephesus for something they did correctly, but the next group fell for . . . )
Next, Jesus spoke to the church at Smyrna, and then Pergamum:
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:14-16)
The Nicolaitans were a sect that believed in a very exaggerated doctrine of Christian liberty. They led lives of absolute indulgence. They held that it was lawful to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication - in defiance of the decree of the church laid down in Acts 15. The leaders and teachers of the New Testament church branded them with a name that they felt expressed their true character: they called them followers of Balaam (II Peter 2, Jude 1).
The scholars tell us that in a time of persecution, when the eating (or not eating) of food sacrificed to idols was a crucial test of faithfulness, they persuaded men and women that it was of no consequence. Even more evil was their practice of mingling in the orgies of idolatrous feasts and mixing these into the meetings of the Christian church.
What does all this mean to us?
We may need to repent of holding bad teaching. We need to be careful of what and how we hear - truly examine the doctrines of the teachers that we listen to -- compare what they say with the scriptures. We base much of what we believe on what teaching we receive, so we must be particular about the teachers we listen to!
Secondly, we may need to repent of sexual immorality. Even if we are not committing sexual sin with our bodies, we may be sinning with our minds and our eyes. How about the movies and television that we watch? What kind of jokes do we tell or listen to? Do we dress modestly? Do we ignore sexual sin in others? If we are guilty, Jesus is telling us to repent.

We'll examine more of Revelation tomorrow . . .

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday slowdown

Jesus, I repent . . .
No excuses. No blame on anyone but me.
Cleanse me, Lord, as I kneel in prayer.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Taking action

Genuine repentance not only requires that we take ownership of our wrongdoings and sins, but that we take prompt action to correct them. We not only need to admit our sins to God and to others that we have hurt, but we also need to take practical steps to correct our sins.
Often there is no quick resolution.
Sometimes there is no simple correction.
If someone has been killed or injured, obviously that sin cannot be fixed.
Sometimes the problem is complex, and can't be remedied in a simple way.
But these should not be excuses used for not taking action. We should thoughtfully devise a plan to lead us into full obedience to God. Repentance, and taking action to right wrongs, should happen as quickly as is possible in each situation.

And sometimes, like in the tenth chapter of Ezra, it ain't easy! Sometimes our sin results in problems for which no easy solution can be seen. This intermarrying with pagan inhabitants of the land was one of those situations. To allow those in "mixed" marriages to continue in them would seem to condone the behavior, at a time when purity of worship was essential. There are 111 Jewish men listed as guilty of this sin -- since there were over 28,000 who had returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, this means four tenths of one percent (I hope I'm correct here, I never was all that good at math) were guilty of the sin.  Was Ezra making a mountain out of a molehill? Was he sorrowing about something that wasn't really all that horrific?
Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Corinthians. He was talking about whether or not to "go easy" or tolerate sin in the New Testament church:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (I Corinthians 5:6)
He must have thought it was super important, for he re-stated it when he wrote to the Galatians about someone who had inserted a false teaching into their church:
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:9)
If they had not confronted the problem, it would have spread even further. Since there were not all that many Jewish exiles who had returned. if this sin had continued, it would have effectively diluted their distinctiveness as God's people. Ezra's words in the ninth chapter indicate that he believed God could (and perhaps would, justifiably) destroy the people. Ezra believed, therefore, that it was necessary to break up these wrongful marriages -- even though God had instituted rules, and had declared His hatred of divorce.  (See Deuteronomy 24 and Malachi 2)  This was not a situation that Ezra took casually: he fasted and prayed before acting on what he knew would be difficult personally for the Jewish men.
To break up the marriages with the women who refused to give up their idols would mean separating fathers from their wives and children. Those individuals would be sent back to their pagan roots, which was not ideal, either. I guess Ezra believed that breaking up the marriages with determined idol worshipers and restoring purity to the Jewish nation was the lesser of the two evils. Either way would be difficult. And painful.
One commentary that I consulted said that to "put away" these wives "according to the law" they referred back to the word of God in Deuteronomy 24. This permits divorce if the husband finds something that brings shame to the man, his family, or the Jewish community (like idolatry). It would not refer to adultery, for that was covered in other verses, and indeed, was punishable by death. So, this had to be something that brought great shame -- and according to the scholars, what could bring greater shame than the breaking of the covenant relationship with God, and incurring His judgment on all of the people?  (Walter Kaiser, Jr., in Hard Sayings of the Old Testament)

Should believers today who find themselves in marriages with unbelievers scamper off to the divorce courts? Certainly not! While the New Testament clearly instructs that a believer should not enter into that relationship, it also clearly says that if the relationship is established, the believer should live in a godly manner. He or she should seek to influence the non-believer by a good testimony for Christ. Many a husband or wife has been brought to a saving knowledge of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, and has begun to live for Him, due to the daily witness of their mate. The non-believer (I Corinthians) is free to leave and then the believer is not bound by the marriage - the only other ground for divorce, I believe from my studies, is the sexual immorality of one of the partners. If you want to check my opinion, which I freely admit could be in error, you can read in Matthew 5 and again in Matthew 19. I think the partner who is harmed has the opportunity to offer reconciliation if the transgressor is repentant. That actually has the opportunity to glorify God more than the breakup of the marriage, but it's a difficult road strewn with many land mines, to be sure.

But here is the way the text applies to our lives today: the Jewish men were pained and it was difficult to separate from their pagan wives and the children. It's also painful to separate ourselves from our sins; it's difficult. Jesus knew this when He said:
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:8-9)
Jesus knew that this language would be hard to hear. Some would find it shocking. He talked this way to get us to see how serious sin is, and to see that we must take action to get it out of our lives, even when it is painful, and even when it's difficult. Sometimes, just like in Ezra's day, there are no easy solutions.
Sometimes it's not just painful -- sometimes it's an occasion for a lot of conflict!
Verse fifteen mentions that four men opposed the proposed covenant to divorce the pagan women. But there may have been a lot more vehement discussions than what the verse mentions casually. Ezra may have been the recipient of a lot of hate mail and mean tweets. (Grin) He could have been called insensitive, unloving, intolerant, and self-righteous! Even though he was obeying the Word of God, he may not have been a popular guy!
Some may think that Ezra should not have forced all of the Jews to enter the covenant under the threat of confiscating their property and excluding them from the assembly. Wouldn't he just see people going through the motions? Wouldn't they conform on the outside, but not have a change of heart?
Ahh, we have come right back to repentance, haven't we? I'm guessing that Ezra hoped that every man (even the four who groused about the whole thing) would take action to correct his own sins out of a personal, not a you-made-me-do-it repentance toward God. But Ezra also had to maintain certain standards of biblical righteousness or the whole community would become tainted with sin and idol worship. So he imposed the covenant on everyone.
It's the same today. God's desire for His church is that every single member would correct his or her sin because of true repentance toward Him. But even if some members disagree, it's the duty of the leadership to ask the whole body to abide by godly standards -- if not, the testimony of Christ will be diluted or destroyed.
We can see this in the New Testament where church discipline is discussed. We are to go to that sinner privately at first, just a couple of believers to try to point out the sinner's error. If they refuse to repent once all of the biblical steps are followed, that sinner is to be removed from the fellowship. (Matthew 18, Galatians 6, and I Corinthians 5.) Maintaining the testimony and purity of the church is more important than keeping things quiet!

I know this has been a long post, but I think it's been an important one for the Spirit to teach us with, in the coming days. Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance, and certainly that is how our Christian life begins. But it's not just something that we feel at the beginning. It's something that should characterize believers all of their lives. Each time that the Spirit convicts us through God's Word of our sins, we should repent. We should be lifelong repenters!
I like this anecdote from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: forty-odd years ago in Ceausescu's Communist Romania, Christians were ridiculed, and nicknamed "repenters." One pastor began to tell his people, "It's time for the repenters to repent." The people in his congregation entered into a covenant of repentance, and radically changed their behaviors and conversation. Soon people around them began to notice. That whole region was soon ablaze in revival, despite their persecution. The influence of those "repenters" was felt throughout Eastern Europe and the whole world.

Lord, help us to be repenters!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Taking ownership

If our repentance for our sins is genuine, we accept the responsibility for what we have done (or left undone.) We own up to it, as they say.
If we blame anyone else, it's not genuine.
If we make excuses, it's not real.
We see genuine repentance in Ezra chapter ten, when we read "We have been unfaithful." We model genuine repentance when we say, "I have sinned."

We live in a culture where everyone is a victim, no?
There are always extenuating circumstances.
There is always a "root cause" that "made" someone do something wrong.
I will agree that many times, there is a mental problem or disease that makes the person "not responsible" for what they have done. But there is a whole culture today that says everyone (well, almost everyone) is a victim. The person was oppressed. Or his or her ancestors were oppressed. The person had a horrible, or just plain unhappy childhood. And the list goes on and on. The people who hold to this worldview feel that the victim is not only innocent, but ineffective -- has no influence on the world, and so cannot possibly influence or victimize anyone else. This victim is powerless, and so he/she is blameless.
But I'm here to tell y'all, every living person has the power to make moral choices.
I didn't have the happiest of childhoods, myself, just like many of you who will read this. But I refuse to let that define who I am! I have asked the Lord to make something of my life that will glorify Him. In spite of my past. In spite of my weaknesses. In spite of my sin. In spite of my not being wealthy or popular or powerful.
I suppose, though, that it may be easier to be miserable. And to blame everything on someone else.  In 2013, there was a court case that would have been considered laughable say, fifty years ago. This case was made possible by the pervasiveness of this victim mentality in our land today. A young man used the defense for his wrongdoings of "being raised in an affluent home, and never being taught the consequences of his actions or decisions." I believe that they called it "affluenza."  While I can't personally agree with the premise of that case, it's true that today we have a generation of parents who have so badly wanted to give their kids the things they never had themselves, that they have jumped into the picture and prevented their children from learning accountability! Kids grow up feeling entitled, and don't really "get" the "earn what you have" concept. They also don't learn to take responsibility when they do something wrong..... they have a hard time taking ownership and then dealing with their wrongdoings.

The scriptures say a lot about personal responsibility:
for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:5)
Jesus told us of our responsibility for our actions and our words:
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Matthew 12:36)
Paul reminded us of this in Romans:
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:12)
So, genuine repentance doesn't try to shift the blame to others, but takes ownership for what we have done.
A genuinely repentant believer will also see hope in the midst of sorrow over sin.  What do we mean by that? The Holy Spirit will reveal to the believer's heart the hope of God's mercy. In verse two of our chapter, Shecaniah says, "yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this." There is hope because our God is compassionate:
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  (Exodus 34:6-7a)
Just as He revealed Himself in this way to Moses, so He reveals Himself to us as well! David knew this, too:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-9,13-14)
God is always ready to forgive and to restore a repentant sinner, and the thought of repentance opens a door of hope to us when we are suffering the sorrow and the consequences of our sins.

We'll wind up our study tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

True repentance, continued

We are talking this week about repentance. Not the casual kind. Not the glib kind. Not the hey, I'm-not-so-bad-after-all or everybody-does-it kind.
What IS true repentance?
Let's look at Ezra chapter 10 again and see . . . .
Ezra's mourning over the sins of the people led others to gather around him. They saw their own sins for what they were, and they began to weep. One of the people becomes an unofficial spokesperson and confesses the sin -- he proposes to Ezra that the people make a covenant to correct their sin. Now, Shecaniah himself is not listed in the group of offenders, but scholars tell us that his dad might be the "Jehiel" in verse 26.
Ezra seems to have trusted his leadership, for he calls the exiles to Jerusalem. They were all shivering in the chilly December rain, and they agreed they had sinned. Only four men opposed the plan that Ezra proposed to them, and they are noted in verse fifteen. They appointed what we would call a "commission" nowadays, to examine each case. The commentaries that I consulted seemed to be in agreement; from the culture and practices of the Jewish people, they feel that if the pagan women would renounce their idols and destroy them, and pledge faith to the God of Israel, then all would be well.
But in the cases where the women refused to give up their idols, then the marriages were dissolved. Presumably there would be arrangements for compensation so that the wives and the children involved would be take care of.

Now, let's go back to verse one:
While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. (verse 1)
Ezra was showing genuine repentance, and was showing it toward God. We see in verse two that Shecaniah says they have been unfaithful "to our God." And the people trembled at God's commandment in verse three, so they knew they needed to confess to the Lord (verse 11). Sin always ends up hurting other people. We need to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them -- but sin is first and foremost against God Himself. Remember when David not only committed adultery, but added murder to it? He said "I have sinned against the Lord." And he wrote this:
For I know my transgressions,    and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict    and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:3-4)
Didn't he sin against Bathsheba? Against her husband? Absolutely! But those sins were pale in comparison to his offense against the holy God. When a believer sins, he gives plenty of ammunition to the devil and enemies of God:
But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, (II Samuel 12:14a)
We show contempt for our holy God, and even more -- unbelievers will mock God and also they will justify their own sins when they hear of a Christian's sin. So, our sin is primarily against God. This means that our repentance must be toward Him as well.

True repentance involves feeling the "wrongness" of our sins. I know I kinda made up a word, there, but bear with me. Both Ezra and the people who gathered around him wept. Why? Because they saw just how unfaithful they had been and they trembled at God's Word that warns of His righteous judgment.
Sorrow should, then, be proportional. Even though according to God's Word, sin is sin. No little ones, no big ones. I guess I mean that there are some sins that hurt more people, and some that hurt just us. Just our relationship with Him. We should keep a tender conscience and confess those relationship sins to Him; then we can move on. (We should remember to ask the Spirit's help for strength to avoid those sins in the future.) If we have sinned in a major way, and hurt others as well as ourselves, then it's appropriate to be deeply grieved and to mourn. This comes from our understanding of the serious consequences our sins bring on ourselves and on others.
Even though we are God's people, our sins can grieve the Spirit and arouse His "anger" (Ezra 10:14, 9:14). I wonder if today we have lost our fear of God's judgment. We only view God as loving and forgiving.
Remember when Moses asked to see God's face?
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7a)
We all like the sound of this, right? But what about the next phrases? The rest of verse seven?
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (v 7b)
The realization that my own sins have consequences . . . . that those consequences may be very long-lasting, makes me feel those sins deeply. And it makes me turn from them. Makes me repent toward God.

More on this tomorrow!

Monday, October 7, 2019

True repentance

Happy endings.
I love 'em.
I'm showing my age, I know.
I'm old school: when I watch a movie, I want to invest my time in something uplifting. I'm not too interested in an "important" film, or a kleenex-box-needed tear jerker. (Yes, I will watch documentaries and other videos to know about important issues, but I'm talking about the times that I sit down and want to watch something just for my own pleasure and entertainment.)
There may be some heartache, some tears.
But you know that at the end, all the loose strings will be tied up and a positive outcome will result.
That's why I mostly watch movies from the thirties and forties. (Grin)
Anyway, I digress.
We are ready for the final chapter of Ezra.
Like an old movie, there will be some conflict and some heartache.
But at the end, there will be a positive outcome.
I'm going to trust that you will find time to read the tenth and final chapter of Ezra in your quiet time. I am going to post the first seventeen verses here for us, since the remainder of the chapter is a list of the names of men who had married "foreign" women, or women outside of the Jewish faith.
 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath. Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.A proclamation was then issued throughout Judah and Jerusalem for all the exiles to assemble in Jerusalem. Anyone who failed to appear within three days would forfeit all his property, in accordance with the decision of the officials and elders, and would himself be expelled from the assembly of the exiles.Within the three days, all the men of Judah and Benjamin had gathered in Jerusalem. And on the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the square before the house of God, greatly distressed by the occasion and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”
12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say. 13 But there are many people here and it is the rainy season; so we cannot stand outside. Besides, this matter cannot be taken care of in a day or two, because we have sinned greatly in this thing. 14 Let our officials act for the whole assembly. Then let everyone in our towns who has married a foreign woman come at a set time, along with the elders and judges of each town, until the fierce anger of our God in this matter is turned away from us.” 15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah, supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite, opposed this.16 So the exiles did as was proposed. Ezra the priest selected men who were family heads, one from each family division, and all of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to investigate the cases, 17 and by the first day of the first month they finished dealing with all the men who had married foreign women. (Ezra 10:1-17)
Wow......there's a lot here, no?
The focus of our study this week will be repentance, taken from those verses above.
In our world today, we often see that people are caught for their crimes (some seem to get away with their wickedness, but that's a story for another day) and some are defiant; some are repentant. Often the ones who want everyone to think they've repented and turned over a "new leaf," are the ones who turn out to be deceiving us. They may say the right things at first, and they seem sorry for what they've done, but we find out later that they didn't really mean what they said!
Television evangelists, financial wizards, even presidents are exposed for their wrongful deeds. Are they genuine when they say they are sorry? Only God knows their hearts, but sometimes a word or two here and there, or even subsequent behavior will tell us they didn't truly repent.
As believers, we know that sin isn't something that we catch like the latest flu or cold virus!
And the Bible is clear that there's genuine repentance and false repentance. Remember ole Pharaoh? He told Moses twice that he, Pharaoh, had sinned (Exodus 9 and 10) but we see later that his heart did NOT change!
Esau wept about his birthright after he gave it away, but in Hebrews 12 we see that he didn't truly repent. Judas felt remorse over betraying our Savior, but he didn't repent (Matthew 27).
If we want to have a right relationship with our Father, we must make certain that our repentance is genuine, not casual.
Let's dig into our text . . .
First, genuine repentance involves heartfelt sorrow. Not being sorry that you got caught! It means that you are sorrowful for the sins and then take prompt action to mitigate them (more on that later). Remember last week when we talked about mourning over our sins? Agreeing with a holy God that we've flubbed up?
Well, (quick review here) the problem in Ezra 9 and 10 concerns the Jewish exiles who returned to the homeland and took pagan wives. We saw that the instructions in Deuteronomy 7 had been totally forgotten, and they'd disobeyed God's commandment. In the eleventh verse, Ezra gets right to the point, telling them what they must do:
Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezra 10:11)
We can see here that Ezra is looking for genuine sorrow over what they had done, and he indicates it will not be sorrow in words only . . . it will also be seen in obedience to God.

So as to make these posts easier to study, I will close here and begin again tomorrow.
See you then!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Confession is truly good for the soul

After we recognize our sin, and we grieve over it, the last step is to confess it without making excuses to our merciful Father.
Ezra's prayer in chapter nine is a wonderful model for Christians to study.
 “What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. 14 Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? 15 Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.” (v 13-15)
No excuses here!
The first thing that Ezra said was to agree with God that He had given them less punishment so far then their sins deserved. Then he agrees with God that according to their flouting of His Word, they deserve no mercy. And then he agrees with God that they'd been sent into captivity for sins many years ago.
Ezra says, in effect, "we are sinful and You are holy. We don't deserve any mercy." So the first element of confession is to agree that God is righteous, and we are not.
The second element is to confess without making excuses. Ezra doesn't breathe a word of complaint here. He doesn't say that God is not being fair. Many people today will point to "extenuating circumstances" and Ezra doesn't do that. Maybe there hadn't been enough Jewish women for all the men to marry, so they married pagan wives. Maybe they rationalized it by thinking, "Well, they will worship at the temple with us. They promised to do that."  Ezra? He doesn't use any of that. Rather than making excuses or rationalizing, he readily acknowledges that God would be quite fair if He punished them.
There's something really interesting here about Ezra, and it points to the fact that he was truly steeped in the Word. He identifies with the people - in spite of the fact that he's innocent of this sin! It shows that he is well aware of the evil that could so easily take root in his own heart. If he'd been a self-righteous man, he might have prayed and said to God: "These people of yours are wicked, Lord. They're obstinate, too. Now, I'm not like them, but You would be righteous to punish them."  Instead, he included himself when he confessed the sins of the people.

We humans are prone to minimize our sin. We call it many things.
Terms that seem more benign than "sin."
Ezra says that their sins have "risen over" their heads (v 6):
Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. (Ezra 9:6)
Kinda like saying they're drowning in a flood of their sins.
He also refers to their guilt, and in verses ten through eleven, he admits that they are guilty of forsaking God's commandments by joining with the pagan peoples of the land.  Again in verses thirteen and fourteen, he refers to their evil deeds and great guilt. No sugar coating here!
He doesn't gloss over their sins.
He doesn't say sin is not a big deal.
He calls their wickedness what it is.
He is agreeing with God on His view of sin. And so must we. And the final point of his prayer is one that we can identify with, too.
At the end of his prayer, Ezra casts himself and the people on God's mercy. His undeserved mercy. He also thanks God for the current return from exile and the building of the temple -- calls them a gracious reviving from God -- and notes that those who sinned have disregarded those blessings. He says they've been ungrateful for the "light to their eyes" and "relief from bondage." (NIV)

The Bible tells us in verse five that Ezra made this lengthy prayer at the time of the evening offering. I wonder if the scents and sounds of the sacrifice encouraged his heart because God had made a way for sinners to be reconciled to Him - through the shedding of blood of a substitute. Those Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the future: to the shed blood of God's perfect (and final) sacrifice, our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. It's through faith in His blood cleansing us from sin that we can draw near to God.

Ezra's prayer has a lot to teach us. We need to be immersed daily in the Word of God, so that we can see our sin clearly in the light of the scriptures.  Then we will realize that it put our Savior on the cross and we will mourn over that sin.  Then we can confess it to the God of mercy, making no excuses, and receive His cleansing for our sins. We will receive that cleansing with joy, and be renewed to serve Him!

Lord, help me to dwell at the foot of the cross, and receive your mercy daily for my sins.

Hope everyone has a blessed and peaceful weekend!